How to Stay Safe and Cut Quick: Sharpen Your Knives at Home

I’ve seen them all. Those charming little coloured ones with the enamel on the blades bought by someone’s mom, the wood-handled set passed down from old relatives, the hodge-podge collections put together by a handful of roommates. While making food at a friends’ house is one of my favourite pastimes as an eager-yet-inept cook, the knife drawer is invariably disappointing. One glance is all it takes to know that the tomatoes are going to be crushed, the garlic will end up in chunks, and There Will Be Blood. You won’t even get to see Daniel Day-Lewis.

The subject of what makes a good knife is about as deep as it gets. You might prefer Japanese style to Western, or plastic grips to wood, or one of a hundred brands over another. My uncle Leo, a molecular biologist and accomplished home chef, gave me a set of simple, stain-free, high carbon steel chef knives that I’ve used for several years now. The fact of the matter is, it doesn’t matter what knives you have if you don’t keep them sharp.


A sharp knife cuts cleaner, smoother and faster than a dull one, and it takes far less pressure to make a good cut. You’re much less likely to hurt yourself, and even if you do, a clean cut will heal much faster. You’re also likely to treat a sharp edge with more respect, improving the quality and safety with which you cook.

Grab a piece of paper and try slicing its edge. You know when you have a good pair of sharp scissors, and you can glide it through paper without moving the blades? That’s what you want to feel with your kitchen knife. If it tears or crumples the paper instead of cutting, it’s dull. You can also try it with a ripe tomato; slide the knife back and forth against the skin with no pressure. If the blade cuts, you’ve got a sharp knife.


Your knives are pretty dull, aren’t they? Mine were too. Good news: you can take them to Cook Culture and they will sharpen them for free. Yes, really—  Jed Grieve and the folks there feel so strongly that a good knife must be sharp that they extend this service to everyone, whether you bought yours there or not. They use a commercial-grade motorized blade sharpener and give them back in peak condition.

However, it usually takes a while for a knife to get dull enough to need a full sharpening, and there’s plenty you can do at home in between. There are a few well-known tools for this: the stone, the steel, and the pull-through.

A stone, also called a whetstone or sharpening stone, is a tool used to sharpen a blade. They’re offered in different grits depending on the fineness of the sharpening needed, and in the hands of a skilled user, can give a finer edge than the best motorized sharpeners. However, using a stone is an art that can take months to learn, and sharpening a blade with one takes time. If figuring this out sounds exciting, go for it—but for most of us, a stone will do more harm than good. You’ve got to get the edge perfectly centered, or it will fold fast.


A steel, also called a “sharpening” steel or honing steel, is a long metal rod used to straighten a knife edge. These tend to be more common than sharpening stones as they are more of a maintenance tool. One of the ways that a blade becomes dull is that the edge, thinner than a human hair, folds over on itself from the pressure of cutting. The steel is designed to straighten this edge. If you cut a lot of meat with the bone still in it, you might find that a steel helps keep things smooth between sharpenings. However, the steel still takes some skill to use, and the edge it restores is not as strong as a fresh one; it can break off, or fold over too tightly to bend back.

The best option for easily maintaining your knife at home is a pull-through sharpener. They take practically no skill to use and do a great job of keeping things sharp. They’re available in both Western style and Japanese, with at least two levels of grain. Cook Culture sells the diamond-edged Chef’s Choice Model 464 “Pronto” for Western and the Minosharp 220 Ceramic Water Sharpener for Japanese knives, both of which are only around $50. It’s an easy investment considering how often you’ll use your knives and how much nicer it is to have a sharp blade. Cook Culture’s Kathryn Marr was kind enough to demo them for me. “It’ll keep your edge and it’ll make your life simpler. I use to have a steel and I never felt qualified to use it,” she said. “I’ve had the same knives for 33 years.”


A few final tips; for one, make sure not to use the edge of your knife to scrape a cutting board. I am very guilty of this, but it folds over the blade and dulls it super fast. Just flip the knife over and use the blunt side as a scraper—or, if you have a fancy knife, do like Jed recommends and buy a cheap dough scraper to use instead. And secondly, don’t store your knives in the drawer along with everything else; they’ll bump around and dull quickly. Put them in a knife block (super badass), magnetic rack or a special drawer insert.

Any questions? Drop by Cook Culture and talk to Jed – or drop us a line through EAT’s Facebook or Twitter so we can keep our knife sharp.

Written By:

Vancouver-born photographer, writer and designer Sol Kauffman has had his hands dirty in restaurant kitchens for years, washing dishes and slinging pizzas. In 2008 he moved to Victoria to pursue a BFA in Creative Writing at UVic ...

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